That night, Chava—a Sangra warrior—attends a party in San Gabriel. As he’s walking inside, eight Lomas, including Puppet, step out of the darkness and chase after Chava. They beat and stab him, and then run into the night.
The peace treaty between the Sangra and the Lomas dissolves almost immediately, replaced by the same horrific violence that both sides have grown accustomed to.
That fall, Luis starts his senior year of school—he’s ToHMAS president. He attends the new Chicano Studies class, and writes a column on Chicano issues for the student paper. After learning that a history teacher, Mr. Humes, called a student a “chola whore,” he bursts into Mr. Humes’s classroom and shouts, “We refuse to take any more abuse.” Mr. Humes goes to Mr. Madison, who calls Luis into his office. Luis tells Mr. Madison that he and other Chicanos are taking things “into our own hands.”
Luis continues to be active in high school and ToHMAS, showing that he has replaced his identity as a cholo with the identity of a mature, politically engaged young man. Luis recognizes that his high school can be unfair and even bigoted—and with this in mind, he and his Chicano friends try to use civil disobedience to remove racist teachers from the school.
In the following days, Chicano students find out about Mr. Humes’s words. Someone slashes Mr. Humes’s tires, and other Chicano students attack white students. Luis witnesses a fight between white and Chicano students, and tries to pull them apart. In the struggle, someone hits him hard, sending him to the hospital. Back at school, his face covered in stitches, Luis speaks before the school, saying, “We can’t stop fighting until the battle’s won.”
Notice that, while Luis seems to think that the Chicano students’ violence is understandable, if not acceptable, Luis himself doesn’t participate in any fights. Instead, he tries to end them. This suggests that Luis is moving away from the brand of reactionary violence he learned as a cholo. Instead, he wants to use reason, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve his goals.
Soon afterwards, Mr. Pérez, a popular Chicano teacher, is fired, supposedly because he’s inattentive to students’ needs (though the opposite is true, Luis claims). Luis talks about organizing a walkout to protest Pérez’s firing. Mrs. Baez encourages him to wait for Mr. Madison to “work this out,” but Luis ignores her.
Luis becomes bolder in his attempts at civil disobedience, even ignoring his own adviser. Luis knows that he’s right to demand his teacher’s return, and he won’t listen to anyone who tries to discourage him.
On the day of the walkout, scheduled for 1 pm, Mr. Madison announces a surprise assembly at the stadium. Luis knows Mr. Madison is doing this to interfere with the walkout. At the assembly, Madison argues that some students are trying to “undermine” the school. Luis is angry, but also proud—he thinks, “all of this was because of me!”
Luis’s goal is to catch Mr. Madison’s attention and to be a thorn in the administration’s side. Clearly, Luis has accomplished this goal—Mr. Madison has been forced to call a school-wide assembly just to respond to Luis’s demands.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Baez returns Luis’s stories and poems, telling him that they’re wonderful and suggesting that he submit them for publication. Around the same time, Luis gets an offer from a university professor to paint a mural for the school. He is also offered an Economic Opportunity Grant at California State College.
Luis’s political activism seems of a piece with his literary and artistic projects: all three represent ways for him to express his feelings and convictions. Luis’s mural contract reflects the overall flourishing of Chicano culture (and interest in Chicano culture) in California in the 1970s.
Luis pauses to discuss the Chicano experience with language. As with many Chicanos, Luis is discouraged from speaking Spanish in school, but he doesn’t learn English very well, either. And yet Luis, like so many other Chicanos, is poetic and expressive. Luis wishes that schools could nurture the literary instinct in their Chicano students instead of training Chicanos to think of themselves as stupid or inarticulate.
In no small part, Chicano immigrants are conditioned to think of themselves as stupid and thuggish because of the way they’re treated in school. One of the best ways to nurture Chicanos (and, Luis implies, keep them from joining gangs) is to celebrate their culture and their language in school.
Luis wins a prize in a statewide literary contest. He’s given a publishing contract and flown out to Berkeley. Luis is very proud of himself, and so is his mother. Shortly afterwards, he graduates from high school. He doesn’t attend the official graduation, but he celebrates with ToHMAS friends. Shortly after Luis graduates, Mr. Pérez gets his job back and Mr. Humes receives “an early retirement.” In 1972, Luis attends college at Cal State-L.A., where he majors in Chicano Studies and Broadcast Journalism. He signs a contract with a press called Quinto Sol, and works on a book about his early life. Luis also visits high schools to speak about Chicano issues.
The future looks bright for Luis: he’s succeeding as a writer, an artist, and a political organizer, and his family is rightly proud. As befits someone who’s benefited from so many great mentors, Luis makes it his mission to travel around Los Angeles, trying to get Chicano students interested in their own culture and political rights—in a way, trying to perform the same service that Chente once performed for him.
During one of his high school visits, Luis meets a high school student named Camila Martínez. Luis invites Camila to come to some of the study sessions he’s been organizing in Los Angeles schools. Shortly afterwards, he asks her to come to a dance at Cal State, and she accepts. At this time, Luis is dating multiple women (meanwhile, his brother Joe has married and had a child, Louie, named after Luis).
Remember from the Preface that Camila later becomes the mother of Luis’s first child. Notice, also, that Joe has named his child after Luis—suggesting that, despite their differences, the two brothers have remained close after all these years.
One night, Luis learns that one of his girlfriends, Terry, is pregnant with his child. Luis is stunned. He doesn’t want to raise a child, as he’s too busy with his studies and political organizing. He tells Terry that she should have an abortion, and Terry is appalled. Soon after, Luis learns from Terry’s sister that Terry has gone missing. Terry’s sister also raises the possibility that Terry was lying about being pregnant. Luis concludes, “I never did find out where Terry went.”
Luis gives reader so little information about Terry that’s it’s hard to know what to think. It’s unclear, for example, how serious Luis and Terry were as a couple, or whether Terry had certain psychological issues that might have led her to lie about being pregnant. And since Luis doesn’t say which month and year this is, it’s not even clear if abortion was legal at the time (it was legalized in 1973 as a result of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade).
The gang warfare between the neighborhoods continues, despite Luis’s attempts to preserve the peace. One night, a gunfight breaks out between Sangra and Loma gang members. The next morning police officers arrest Chicharrón for the murder of a teenaged gang member who died in the gunfight. Chicharrón, seventeen at the time, is jailed for accessory to murder.
Even while Luis gravitates toward art, culture, and politics, his childhood friends continue to end up dead or in jail—a constant reminder of what could have happened to Luis had he been unluckier.
Meanwhile, Luis starts spending more time with Camila. Life is going well for him, especially now that he has “a beautiful woman at [his] side.”
Luis seems to be succeeding in pulling his life together. He has a promising and meaningful career and a beautiful girlfriend.
Luis witnesses a fight between a woman and some police officers who are trying to arrest her. The woman resists arrest, and when the officers punch the woman in the face, Luis feels he has to intervene. He attacks the officers, and the officers overpower him and arrest him. He now faces serious prison time for assaulting an officer.
Things change for Luis after he tries to break up the fight. Notice that, as before, Luis uses violence defensively, to protect the weak. Luis clearly thinks his actions are morally justifiable—and he’s probably right, especially given what he has said already about the LAPD’s behavior.
For his preliminary hearing, Luis is assigned a public defender and grouped with another defendant named Licha, aged twenty-seven. Licha is charged with disorderly conduct. Luis befriends Licha, and they make a pact: whoever gets out first has to visit the other one in jail.
Luis generally makes friends easily, and now is no exception. He and Licha experience the camaraderie that often comes with suffering side-by-side.
Luis now has to figure out how to post bail. After trying to get money from his brother and parents, he’s forced to go to a bail bondsman, who lends him the money he needs to get out of jail. Following his pact, Luis visits Licha in jail. During his visit, Luis learns that Licha has been classified as suicidal, since she tried to cut her wrists the previous night. Luis encourages Licha to be strong, and Licha thanks him for visiting her. The two find it surprisingly easy to talk to each other, and Luis notes that he found her very attractive.
While Luis doesn’t explicitly say so, it’s suggested that he’s sympathetic to Licha because he, too, has struggled with depression and suicidal impulses. Notice, also, that Luis is becoming attracted to Licha even though he’s still involved with Camila, the future mother of his child.
In the coming weeks, Luis focuses on his upcoming hearing. He speaks to a judge in San Gabriel who helped him when he was a juvenile offender. Amazingly, the judge agrees to write a letter to the court on his behalf. Luis also obtains letters from some of his professors at college, testifying to his good character. Luis calls Licha almost every day. They’ll be grouped together on the day of their hearing.
At every stage of his life, but now more than ever, Luis is dependent upon the kindness of other people—here, his professors, and even a San Gabriel judge, vouch for him. It’s a mark of Luis’s modesty that he’s so upfront about the role luck has played in his life, since the willingness of people to advocate for him is a clear mark of his good character.
Licha invites Luis to visit her in her neighborhood. Luis obliges, but when, after hours of travel and searching, he finally gets to Licha’s house, nobody answers the door. It’s late, and Luis is so tired that he’s forced to sleep in a nearby church.
For reasons not fully explained, Licha isn’t anywhere to be found, meaning that Luis is stranded in an unfamiliar neighborhood far from his home in San Gabriel.
While Luis prepares for his hearing, his work and other projects suffer. Quinto Sol is starting to collapse due to disagreements between its editors, and Luis loses his mural contract, too. Luis speaks to his public defender, who tells Luis that he should plead guilty, a suggestion that Luis immediately disagrees with, even after Licha encourages him to do so.
Luis’s bright future starts to dim: at the same time that he’s losing his professional relationships with publishers, he’s beginning to realize that he’ll probably have to go to jail. The court system is so cop-friendly that it won’t show any sympathy to Luis, even though he only attacked a cop because he was trying to protect another woman.
On the day of his hearing, Luis swallows hard and tells his judge that he’ll accept a guilty plea in exchange for a lesser charge of disorderly conduct. The judge accepts, sentencing Luis to a couple months in jail and a small fine. Licha is sentenced to jail time at a different location. They hug and promise to get together when they’re both free again.
Since the 1960s, plea-bargaining has become a major part of the American legal system: without plea bargains, there wouldn’t be enough time and space for all defendants to appear in court. The downside for defendants, as the passage shows, is that they have to plead guilty, and often end up paying a fine or serving time in prison.
On the day Luis is released from jail, Licha comes to see him. She invites him to stay with her in her neighborhood for a few days, and Luis agrees, even though he remembers what happened the last time he tried to visit. That night, Luis and Licha kiss for the first time. But just one month later, their relationship comes to a sudden end. Licha tells Lus that he’s too young for her.
Luis’s relationship with Licha, like many of his relationships in this book, comes to an abrupt (and somewhat comical) end.